Continuing in the opposite direction that is...
It occurs to me that I never finished the story of our trip to Gombe, and that I have been very lazy with this blog recently. There is of course an excellent reason for that and for my lifestyle (The lifestyle of a sedentary camel who is obsessed with Ben and Jerry's) over the last couple of weeks. That reason can be summed up in one little acronym: The BBC. May they rot. But more of that later (don't know how much later, don't ask, but I will tell at some point, I promise).
OK, so, we saw the chimps. it was magical and tear in the eye, heart-stopping, thought-provoking fab. But now back in time one further day and where do we find ourselves?...Ahh it's the same forest. The same family of tired, scruffy, dusty people are trudging up a hill joined by two guides and by family friend Janet. We are relieved to be on what is basically a real path for once and not climbing over and under bushes and tree roots in search an elusive chimp or two. We take a well-earned break. Bottles of warm water are pulled from back-packs and poured lavishly over faces and sometimes into mouths. Energy failing us, my sister and I flop down on a rock and allow the quiet of the forest, the gentle faraway song of birds, the tiny background trill of insects and the hum settle over us for a moment. The hum appears to be growing louder and suddenly my sister, Jeannie, stands up shouting, 'Ow! They're stinging!' Even then I don't worry, I merely hop to my feet and look towards her. But they are on us before I can even think again. I am stung three times in quick succession before my brain gets into gear. It tells me one thing, and it is what my dad and my hysterical older sister, Becky, are already screaming, 'RUN!'
Well, I guess I know what you are thinking: Bit of a fuss about some bees. But anyone who has encountered African bees will know that to run is not only the best thing to do, it , might just save your life. The African bee will continue to sting anything in reach so if, by serious bad luck you should happen on a hive, just run! Even then you may not be safe as the bees will sometimes chase people for up to two kilometres. the only fatality that the researchers in Gombe had ever had was believed to be due to the bees. A woman was found at the bottom of a cliff and it was believed that she had run blindly from the bees and in her fear had run straight off the cliff. My sister Becky had already encountered bees in our hometown of Moshi, while on a school trip to a nearby lake. She had been told by her teachers (both English) to get into the lake and put her head under the water to avoid being stung. The girls in her class had all done as they were told, needless to say the boys had run for their lives. Survival of the git-est, I suppose. They had escaped with barely a sting between them while the girls had been stung repeatedly. I visited my sister in the medical building when she returned and was shocked by what I saw. It was like a war zone. Girls crouched on the beds picking stings out of one another's faces. A tissue lying by one girl's side was black with stings that her friend was removing from her ear. They were largely stung on their faces and ears as the rest of their bodies had been underwater. 'Whenever I came up for breath, they were stinging me again' Becky sobbed through swollen lips. Over the next few months her hands, feet, legs and face swelled up so that she sometimes couldn't move them, and the sound of any flying insect was enough to send her into a panic.
Hard to blame her then as now she runs for safety without looking back. I run too and after sometime cannot feel the bees stinging any more. My mum and dad catch up with us and eventually we find Becky crouched in a ditch by the side of the path, her hands over her head, sobbing. We cling together as a family, three girls, mum and dad. After a while the guides come running towards us, one of them is still shaking the shirt that he has torn off himself, his torso is covered with stings. And then it slowly becomes clear. One of us is missing.
All I've got time for at the moment. Some of us have to work ya know!